History Trip to Ham House
Ham House, a National Trust property in Richmond, Surrey, is the Historical Environment identified by AQA for History students sitting their exams in the summer of 2019. When we visited this site with 140 students in steamy July weather, the emphasis was to learn how Ham House became significant during the Restoration period, and how historical events led to its extension and development. A beautiful stately home, designed in the Palladian style popular during the Renaissance, the original building was constructed in 1610. The house was subsequently given by Charles I to his whipping boy William Murray in 1637. When Murray died during the English Civil War, it was his formidable daughter Elizabeth Tollemache who protected the house from the widespread destruction common during the conflict.
Once Charles II was restored in 1660, Elizabeth received a royal pension in return for her loyalty. Much of this money was resultingly spent on renovating and extending the house – particularly once Elizabeth married influential politician the Duke of Lauderdale. Much court gossip centred around the scandalous circumstances of their affair and marriage, particularly as their respective spouses had conveniently died within a few months of each other. Their mutual ambition and merciless methods to remain in favour with the King maintained their position as court favourites. Certainly they became a Renaissance power couple and set about extending Ham House to take advantage of its location close to Whitehall.
We witnessed the Queen’s bedchamber, positioned to take advantage of the geometric garden, modelled on the Palace of Versailles, not to mention the imported Japanese furniture and American walnut floorboards which evidenced the emergence of an international trade network which eventually became the basis for the British Empire. The property was innovative as it built the first Orangery in England, and had one of the first ensuite baths! We were all intrigued about the secret passageways in the house, allegedly still haunted by several previous occupants! Students enjoyed a tour of the grounds and house, and were able to connect their learning about Restoration England generally with the specifics of this location.
Some students were a little disappointed that there had been no sign of supposed ghost Elizabeth, whose ‘restless spirit’ is alleged to still haunt the property. Nevertheless, it was a great end to our academic year, particularly seeing Vandyke students picnic in the grounds of such a stunning historical landmark, not to mention optimistically singing England football songs on the way home!
Team Leader of History